Holiday Spirit in Virtual Worlds

For devotees of Massively Multiplayer Online Games, the holidays would seem to present a dilemma: How to get into the spirit of the season, when all your free time is spent maneuvering your avatars through various quests and fights to the death?

But in fact, many MMOGs don't force their players to eschew yuletide pursuits. Come December, their metaverses are abuzz with elves, dwarves and superheroes stringing lights and taking a break from their usual slayings to spread good cheer across their virtual worlds.

For the games' developers, the holiday trappings make sense: MMOGs seek to create a complete world for the players to inhabit as an alternative to the real one, and these kinds of events help keep those worlds engaging -- and the players, in turn, renewing their monthly subscriptions. Easter, Halloween and some form of midsummer festival typically get worked into many of the games, though as with life offline, Christmas is the biggest to-do.

To keep their overall fantasies intact, the games find ways to weave the holidays into their respective imagined realms. The superhero-themed "City of Heroes" offers players the chance to fight against Lord Winter and to rescue the Baby New Year from the clutches of the Red Caps. In Star Wars: Galaxies, Sony revives "Life Day," a Christmas-esque
Wookiee holiday dreamed up for the infamous 1978 Star Wars holiday special.


World of Warcraft Christmas
Blizzard Entertainment
World of Warcraft fans deck out their holiday of Winter Veil in a way that looks a lot like Christmas.

World of Warcraft, the most popular MMOG with over 11 million subscribers, has long been known for its user-friendly gameplay, and its holiday offerings are no exception. Citizens of Azeroth, its virtual universe, celebrate the feast of Winter Veil. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, the game's developer, they get to ride virtual reindeer into battle and restore valuable health points with candy canes. For female avatars who so deign, there are highly revealing holiday garments. And in the snowier parts of Azeroth, even the villains can be seen sporting jaunty red Christmas hats.

The World of Warcraft holiday season culminates with New Year's Eve festivities in which millions of players congregate to drink virtual beer, dance on top of virtual kegs and look to the sky to see little colored pixels raining out of virtual fireworks. After that, just like in the real world, the virtual adventurers will return to their daily grind of battling dragons and ogres.

While the MMOG holidays are generally popular with players, virtual holidays do have their grinches. On the gamer blog "Ten-Ton Hammer," one anonymous commenter railed against the games for failing to provide him with an escape from the constant bombardment of glad tidings that he had to put up with in the real world.

"It kills my co-workers that I refuse to let them decorate my desk during the season," he wrote. "So why in the world would I want to log into a game and be surrounded with the same thing?"